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regular-article-logo Sunday, 03 March 2024

MGNREGA: Centre stopped payment to Bengal workers three months before passing order

Ministry of rural development invoked Section 27 of MGNREGA and passed an order on March 9, 2022 to stop release of funds to the state under the scheme

Basant Kumar Mohanty New Delhi Published 05.10.23, 05:34 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File picture

The Centre had stopped the payment of wages to workers in Bengal under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) three months before it actually passed an order to stop funding to the state, documents accessed by The Telegraph show.

The ministry of rural development (MoRD) invoked Section 27 of the MGNREGA and passed an order on March 9, 2022, to stop the release of funds to Bengal under the MGNREGA. However, the MoRD had completely stopped releasing funds from December 24, 2021.

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The MoRD’s order of March 9, 2022, accessed by The Telegraph, says that the Centre had asked the Bengal government to submit an action taken report (ATR) on the enquiry reports of central teams about the alleged irregularities in the implementation of the scheme in the state. However, the ATRs initially submitted in June 2019 and later in January 2021 were found to be unsatisfactory. The MoRD had asked for a comprehensive ATR, which was not received.

Owing to the non-compliance with the directives of the Centre, the MoRD invoked Section 27 of the MGNREGA to state that: “Release of funds under Wage, Material and Administrative components will be stopped from the date of issue of this order, until state government ensures compliance of directives of Central government.”

Under the MGNREGA, workers get paid within 15 days of completion of work. The state government generates a funds transfer order (FTO) based on which the MoRD releases the payment to the workers’ accounts. The MoRD makes payment every day since it receives FTOs of different projects undertaken by states. The government has to pay an interest of 0.05 per cent per day on the pending amount for the delay period.

Anuradha Talwar of Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity (PBKMS), an organisation of workers in Bengal, told reporters that the funds were completely stopped from December 2021 though the MoRD did not have the authority to do so.

The PBKMS has moved Calcutta High Court to challenge the stoppage of wages. Wages amounting to Rs 2,700 crore are unpaid in Bengal. Of this, Rs 1,500 crore belongs to the period when no order was passed to stop funding to the state, Talwar said.

“The stoppage of funds before passing the order is illegal. The MoRD has no authority to do that. The MoRD must respond to how it did so,” Talwar said.

Purbayan Chakraborty, the lawyer representing PBKMS, said the MoRD stopped the release of funds completely from December 24, 2021.

“The pending wage for this period is Rs 1,500 crore but the government has to pay interest of Rs 200 crore since it delayed the wages without any authority,” he said.

Researchers and civil society and workers’ rights groups such as the NREGA Sagharsh Moracha (NSM), PBKMS, NREGA Watch, Jharkhand and Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, Bihar, on Wednesday termed the MoRD’s approach as anti-worker.

The civil society groups held a two-day national convention, which ended on Wednesday, and decided that the workers’ groups would launch a campaign with the slogan “BJP Hatao! NRGEGA Bachao!” The members of different workers’ groups in states associated with the NSM would hold meetings in villages and campaign against the BJP before the 2024 general elections.

Ashish Ranjan, a member of the Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan in Bihar, said the Modi government had neglected the scheme by depriving it of funds and through the introduction of mobile apps and Aadhaar-based payment system.

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